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Public not concerned by officers having tattoos

The vast majority of people are not bothered if police officers have tattoos, according to the results of a Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) survey carried out this year.

And 81 per cent of respondents said a visible tattoo would make no difference to their confidence in the officer.

"In the last 10 to 15 years we have seen a real upsurge in the number of people who have visible tattoos," says Tiff Lynch, chairman of Leicestershire Police Federation, "Yet within the police service there is a really inconsistent approach to officers who have body art that can be seen when they are wearing their uniform.

"Some forces will not even consider taking on new recruits or accepting transferees from other counties if they have visible tattoos while others have a far more relaxed approach.

"This survey gives us an indication of the public's view on this issue and will help shape the Federation's stance. To me, it's quite simple. Police forces should be representative of the communities they serve and, that being the case, since more members of the public have tattoos it should follow that more police officers are likely to have tattoos too.

"If forces do not allow people with non-offensive but visible tattoos they risk restricting the pool of people from which they can recruit and that could mean them missing out on someone who has all the other qualities to make them a good officer such as common sense, good communication skills, compassion, understanding and sense of humour."

The survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori, also revealed:

  • Nearly 60 per cent of the public who responded said they would feel comfortable in dealing with an officer who has a visible tattoo - slightly higher than they would with doctors or teachers (both 56 per cent)
  • 60 per cent of those surveyed believe people with visible tattoos should be allowed to join the police service
  • More than half of the officers who took part said they felt comfortable or very comfortable working with colleagues with visible tattoos
  • 48 per cent of officers surveyed said they had a tattoo, with 17 per cent having a visible tattoo
  • Many officers said their tattoos helped them to relate to the public, diffusing situations and that officers should be judged on their work, rather than tattoos.

Vicki Martin, who has been leading on the work on behalf of the PFEW, welcomed the results: "We should listen to what the public are telling us and respond accordingly. It is far more commonplace for people to have tattoos than it ever was and the comments in the survey reflect the fact that it doesn't undermine public confidence in the service if officers have ink.

"What we need to see now is a sensible approach to officers in the service and to potential candidates who want to join the service, otherwise we are missing out on a huge talent pool.

"Policies need to be modern and flexible to ensure the public get the best people delivering their policing, being representative of the communities we serve."

The research - which was two-fold and asked views of officers as well as the public - was undertaken earlier in the year because of the inconsistent way national guidance was being interpreted among forces across the country.

The current guidance states that officers 'should not have tattoos which could cause offence. Tattoos are not acceptable if they are particularly prominent, garish, offensive or undermine the dignity and authority of your role'.

However, the guidance is open to interpretation and has produced a situation where what is acceptable in one force may not be in another, and potential good candidates were being excluded, particularly as one in three young people now have tattoos.

Vicki continued: "We're not saying we advocate offensive tattoos, or a full face tattoo, but many people have small tattoos on visible parts of their bodies, such as the neck or hands and we wanted to explore what the issues were and have some evidence to help shape our thinking and the next steps.

"We just don't think that blanket bans are workable and wanted to stimulate debate around this issue, which it has. The response has been really informative and will help inform the next stage of the work."

The Federation will now work with Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole who is leading a small group looking at appearance standards and specifically tattoos.

PFEW is seeking a national standard so that there is an up to date professional policy fit for the modern day police service.